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Cooking Tips

Make Sure Your Marinade Contains These Three Ingredients

Without any one member of this hardworking trio, you might as well skip marinating altogether.
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Published July 18, 2022.

A marinade is a seasoned liquid in which meat is soaked before (and sometimes after) cooking. The herbs, spices, and flavorings in a marinade can seem so enticing—in fact, you may even choose a recipe based on what’s in the soaking liquid.

But in reality, very few seasonings make it to the center of meat—and most need help even flavoring the exterior. Furthermore, a great marinade doesn’t just season food. It also increases juiciness and helps with browning.

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So to get the most out of your marinade, it's important to use ingredients that will give you the most bang for your buck. The following trio of marinade superheroes–all pantry staples–are musts in any soaking liquid.

The Three Ingredients Every Marinade Needs

1. Salt

Salt in a marinade affects meat in four ways. It restructures the protein molecules, creating gaps that fill with water to increase juiciness. It also loosens the bundles of muscle fibers, making them more tender and easier to bite through and chew. Salt also travels far into the meat, enhancing its inherent flavors. Finally, while the salt is doing its work, osmosis causes water to move across cell walls from areas with a lower concentration of dissolved substances (the marinade) into areas of higher concentration (the meat).

To capitalize on these effects, include a high concentration of salt in your marinades, about 1 1/2 teaspoons per 3 tablespoons of liquid. (We often refer to soaking liquids that not only contain lots of seasonings but also lots of salt as "brinerades.")

2. Sugar/Honey

Sweeteners like sugar and honey not only add complexity to marinades, they also help foods brown during cooking, further developing flavor.

3. Oil

Garlic, as well as most of the herbs and spices that we add to marinades, is oil-soluble, which means it only release its full flavor when mixed in oil. Oil also helps seasonings cling to the surface of meat. So, to get the most out of a marinade, always include oil. But note: These flavors will merely coat, not penetrate, the meat. Meat proteins are saturated with water, so they won't absorb the oil or its flavors.

Favorite Recipes with Marinades

Recipe

Miso-Marinated Salmon for Two

Miso is one of the best ways to flavor salmon—inside and out.
Get the Recipe

Grilled Flank Steak with Garlic-Chile Marinade

Marinades are ineffective as tenderizers, but add deep flavor if used for the correct amount of time.
Get the Recipe

Marinated Artichokes

Slow cooking baby artichokes in garlic-spiked olive oil is the key this antipasto mainstay.
Get the Recipe

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